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Bulgaria’s own Indiana Jones

Known to many as “the Indiana Jones of Bulgaria” the late Dr Georgi Kitov who headed up Bulgaria’s archaeological team for Thracian Tomb Research was the leading authority on this ancient civilisation and was renowned for unearthing the greatest discoveries in Bulgaria to date.

Born in 1943 in Doupnitza, he graduated from Sofia University with a degree in History and Archaeology in 1966 and 11 years later he became a doctor within this faculty. In 1981, he was promoted to Research Associate in Thracian Archaeology and later to Chairman of the faculty.


In 2001 he founded and took the lead role in TEMP, the organisation devoted to Thracian Tomb Research. Dr Kitov who died on September 14th 2008, was also a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Science’ (BAS) and Sofia University.

Quest Bulgaria was fortunate enough to interview Dr. Kitov before his death to learn more about the man who had taken the international archaeological world by storm.

A quiet, pensive man, Dr Kitov explained why he became an archaeologist, “As a schoolboy, I was interested in history and archaeology, I asked myself a lot of questions about ancient times ... who were our forefathers, what did they look like, what were their interests, how did they live, where did they live, what did their weapons look like and what they were made of.”

This interest grew over the years to the point where he became fascinated with more complex issues like habits, customs, rituals, wars and funerals, Dr Kitov explained, “For me, this was the most exciting and interesting thing in the universe.” Naturally this burning passion to know more led him to study history and archaeology and later to forge a career in this field.
As his discoveries grew and he came into the media spotlight, the press dubbed him “the Bulgarian Indiana Jones,” but Kitov was not keen on this label, explaining that, “I’m real scientist and he’s just a movie character!”

Many of us have fantasised about joining an archaeological dig and making some astounding discovery, but few realise this dream. Archaeological expeditions are made up of 10 to 15 specialists, which consists of the archaeologists, a geo-physicist, a restorer, two architects, several students and around three to 15 local labourers to do the bulk of the initial digging work. Archaeological digs are a far cry from the TV- style dig where young students sit in the sun chiselling away at their finds; a lot of heavy plant machinery like bulldozers and tractors are also on site to cope with the heavy work.

Dr Kitov was one of the lucky few who made not one but several astounding discoveries, he recalled his feelings the time he discovered some rare artefacts including a golden mask near Shipka, “It was so amazing and exciting. People said I was calm when I found this unique item and until recently, there have never been so many early Thracian artefacts uncovered.”

Many items from Kitov’s discoveries including Thracian tombs and relics are on display to the general public; the Regional Development Ministry spent two million Leva to improve the local infrastructure around Shipka, which included the building of a road directly to the site now known as the Valley of the Kings. Other artefacts like the King’s mask, the golden wreath and the ring are on show in the Archaeological Museum belonging to the Bulgarian Academy of Science in Sofia and the bronze head of King Sevt III is in the museum in Kazanlak.

Re-Discovering Ancient Thrace

Bulgaria’s rich history may hold the key to its success as a tourist destination, particularly as Bulgaria’s State Agency for Tourism wants to create diversity in the attractions the country has to offer and thus shed its ‘cheap holiday destination’ label. Archaeological digs unearthing Thracian treasures can help further its aim; future visitors to Bulgaria will be able to visit ancient Thracian sites, where treasures that enrich Bulgaria’s history have recently been uncovered.

The Thracians inhabited the eastern half of the Balkan Peninsula, which today forms Bulgaria, Turkey and a small of north-east Greece. They left a rich cultural heritage behind and were skilled farmers, horticulturalists, horse-breeders, potters, weavers, miners and gold and silversmiths. Originally they were part of an Indo-European ethnic group. The first Thracian Kingdom was founded at the end of 6th century BC by Theresus; his heirs, Sevt I and Kotis I, succeeded him and united all of the tribes within the Thracian territory. They built a prosperous and wealthy country called Odrin Kingdom, which became a serious political and military opponent of Byzantine Athens.

At this time the Thracians attained huge growth in their socio-economic and cultural development which continued until the 3rd century BC when Thrace was conquered by Philip of Macedon, who included it as part of his kingdom. His son Alexander the Great continued to rule the kingdom after Philip’s death. After the death of Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, one of his strategists, became the governor of Thrace. He proclaimed himself an independent ruler and tried to restore Alexander’s Empire.

During the expansion of the Roman Empire, Thrace was absorbed into it. One of the most famous heroes of this time was the Thracian soldier Spartacus who became a symbol for freedom. He was captured by the Romans and then sold as a slave and later a gladiator. A few years later, with 70 of his comrades, Spartacus escaped, hid on Mount Vesuvius, raised a large army of rebel slaves and attempted - unsuccessfully - to free his homeland.

Within a couple of centuries, while the Byzantium, Bulgarian and Ottoman Empires were developing their cultures and economies the Thracians merged with Greeks, Bulgarians, Slavs and Turks and the true Thracian culture became unclear until archaeologists began to make some unique finds dating back to early Thrace.

Thracian Places of Interest

The ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ covers a small part of the Thracian lowlands in the middle of Bulgaria near to Kazanlak. Here more than 1,500 Thracian tombs and burial grounds have
been found. Places such as Svetitcata, Goliama Kosmatka, Aleksandrovo, Starosel, Shipka and many others have now begun to reveal the extent and huge wealth of the Thracian civilisation. These 2500 year old temples and tombs are unique - not only with their architecture and
treasures - but also with the history hidden within them.

The golden mask of a long-dead warrior king found in Svetitcata (near Shipka) contains more than half a kilogram of solid gold and was made in the 5th century BC. This extremely rare hand-made mask is amazing, with its realistic shape and size of the face displaying incredible detail.

Amongst the wealth of treasures unearthed at the site of the Golden Mask, there were also swords, Greek vessels and a golden wreath made with astonishing precision and decorated with oak leafs and acorns, as well as a goblet which, like the mask, was used during
religious rituals.

The Archaeological expedition TEMP (Thrace Expedition for Tomb Research) lead by thelate Dr Georgi Kitov started excavations at Goliama Kosmatka (also near Shipka). A Thracian temple which was built 2500 years ago was discovered and appears to be the biggest and the oldest Thracian temple found in the Valley of the Thracian Kings. It is 7 m wide and 5 m in high. In the middle of
the stone wall there is a corridor that leads to an inner hall and the centre of the temple.

Another astonishing find was a figure of the helmeted goddess Pallas Athena - the like of which has never been seen before in Bulgaria. The artefacts found in the temple’s chamber were used as a bed on top of which the king’s dead body was laid. Tombs containing vast amounts of ancient treasure such as were found at Goliama Kosmatka shows that this was the last resting place of a very rich and powerful man. Outside the temple the archaeologists discovered a unique bronze head, part of a statue of an ancient Thracian ruler.

Many of the Thracian treasures are currently on exhibit all over the world to encourage an interest in this most fascinating aspect of Bulgarian cultural history.

With the growth in cultural tourism, which has been fuelled by discoveries such as those mentioned above, the long dead Thracian kings may be able to aid the State Agency for Tourism in its quest for a more suitable label, which truly reflects the cultural significance of this once mighty land.